Don’t Let Chuck Hagel’s Hardline Israel Critics Sink His Nomination
According to reports, which likely stem from White House leaks, Barack Obama is considering former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. The White House has probably not made up its mind and is using the leaks to gauge the opposition. If that’s the case, then the strategy is working as intended. The stories of Hagel’s looming nomination have aroused intense opposition—but almost exclusively from individuals and organizations that back Israel’s right-wing government and find Hagel’s views on Israel repellent.
These critics include the Republican Jewish Coalition, which is funded by gambling mogul and greater-Israel proponent Sheldon Adelson; the Zionist Organization of America, which also opposes a two-state solution; and a sundry collection of fellow travellers, including the Weekly Standard, Commentary, and the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin. “Hagel has made clear he believes in the existence of a nefarious Jewish lobby that secretly controls U.S. foreign policy,” one Republican aide told The Weekly Standard. “This is the worst kind of anti-Semitism there is.”
I know something about Hagel. I spent several months talking to him and to people who know him for a profile I wrote for The New Republic in 2007 when he was considering running for president. I can’t confidently say that he would make a good or great Secretary of Defense, but I can say with confidence that Hagel is a honorable man who served with distinction as a senator and that his foreign policy views, including his positions on Israel and its American lobby, are, if anything, a reason to support rather than oppose his nomination.
Elected to the Senate from Nebraska in 1996, Hagel styled himself a Reagan conservative. He ran in on a platform of tax cuts, but he was really closer to an “old guard” Midwestern Republican. He was not knee-jerk anti-government, especially when it came to farm programs. He was anti-abortion because he had to be in order to get elected in Nebraska. His opposition to the Kyoto global warming treaty was also in line with Nebraska’s farm interests who feared it would raise petroleum prices.
On foreign policy, though, Hagel was his own man. He became interested in foreign policy after returning from Vietnam where he had served as an infantryman and had been twice wounded. He returned to finish college, where he read widely on the subject, and harbored doubts about American intervention, that would burst forth later. Once elected to the Senate, Hagel asked for a seat on the Foreign Policy Committee, which was thought to be a backwater under Sen. Jesse Helms.